Industry Standards for Public Spaces Solutions to Problems

The lobbies and hallways of residential buildings are not high-end private residential projects—yet they’re not back stairwells or utilities spaces either. They literally fall somewhere in between, and no matter how new or sophisticated the building itself is, or how lavishly constructed, by the very nature of architecture and construction, nothing is exactly straight or perfectly plumb. It’s a given on any project that almost all walls, floors and ceilings will be out of alignment—it is just a matter of how much. As interior designers, we are not hired to re-build the building. We are hired to enhance its appearance, which increases value for residents, as well as attracting prospective buyers.

Cost is the determining factor when commencing a design project. Anything can be done—for a price—but it’s the building that ultimately decides the value of all options. Regardless of the final cost, once a rehab design project on any existing building is finished, issues or questions may be raised about the end result—either of the design work itself, or its execution.

While questions and differences of opinion are inevitable whenever aesthetic decisions are being made, it is important for both boards and the residents to understand what is acceptable under the interior design industry’s Industry Standards, what is not, and what is above this standard and thus more costly. Our preliminary budget estimates are based on this Industry Standard, so a fundamental grasp of the basics can help boards and management determine if the work being done in their building—and the cost they’re paying—is indeed fair and up to professional scratch.

Painting will be done on top of pre-existing paint finishes. Preparation of the ceilings, walls and doors include only “light sanding” of the old surface, then priming and painting or hanging wall covering.Dents in doors and frames are not filled in the base project, but they can be filled with Bondo or similar automotive repair products. Paint drips on doors and door hardware is a common occurrence, but unless specified, removal of old paint drips is not typically done. Existing hardware is masked off when new paint is applied, so often paint drips are leftovers from previous paintings. Drips on doors and doorframes also may be visible. These are usually lightly sanded, but not removed. Detailed cleaning of hardware is an extra expense—the building may opt to have all existing doorknobs and roses refinished. Door viewers/chimes may also be replaced. Buildings often have their in-house staff or an outside professional cleaning company come in to do this work. Replacement door hardware (except new viewing devices and covers) should be installed in advance of the hallway renovation to alleviate complicated coordination with painters and residents. In the case of paint drips on doors and doorframes, only stripping the door to the raw metal will take this out completely at an additional cost. Wall coverings are similar to paint, but entail different standards and practices. Standard removal of old material and preparation usually provides a suitable smooth surface for installation of new Type II, or moderately textured wall covering.

A typical project consists of stripping the existing wall covering and doing a standard wall preparation for the new treatment. The extent of preparation depends on whether the wall will be covered or simply painted. If the contractor can determine prior to the bid that the walls need further preparation or skim-coating (a process by which a new layer of plaster is applied and polished for a smooth, even finish) the board will be advised and will make this decision. A sample area can be done in advance for review.

When we specify a grasscloth type vinyl wall covering, we expect to see a paneling effect just as you would with the real thing. This is to be expected. It is the natural material look that we are hoping to achieve.

Smooth and/or shiny wall coverings will show imperfections. A sample area is recommended for review to make sure the board and/or residents are happy with the effect. Skim-coating the walls may be necessary for the smooth look. Textured wall covering materials will hide more wall imperfections.

If deemed appropriate, new wall coverings can be hung over existing ones. It is less expensive than removing old coverings and doing wall preparation. It is imperative that the wall covering contractor examine the existing conditions to determine if installing new over existing is feasible. The walls are carefully prepared by cutting away all loose material and patching areas smooth, then coated with a primer that increases adhesion. There are situations where it is not possible to hang new wall covering over old due to the type of existing material and/or the adhesion of existing material to the substrate.

The contractor customarily smoothes out small imperfections in wall coverings—such as small lumps or pimples. It’s also common for bubbles to occur under the wall covering until the adhesive dries. The majority of bubbles will disappear, and the ones that don’t will be taken care of by the contractor. If there is a larger plaster dip or belly, however, the contractor can skim-coat the surface for an additional cost. One thing contractors may not be able to do is actually straighten walls. It is cost prohibitive and impractical. The best we can do is artfully distract the eye and live with it.

It is important to get a significant guarantee from the contractor who deems this method of installation

Ceilings and beams present as many challenges as there are styles of ceilings. Popcorn finishing can usually be repainted. It can also be removed for a price, though that approach may be a messy proposition. Once removed, the ceiling would have to be skim-coated and caulked/taped at the perimeter walls. In some circumstances, the contractor may recommend a canvas or fabric mesh to be adhered to the ceiling to prevent habitual cracking. This process is called canvassing.

In cases of plaster failure, plaster may crumble and “fail” during the scraping or removal of wall coverings and surface preparation on plaster walls and ceilings. When this happens, the contractor typically has to re-plaster or re- build these areas—at an additional cost per square foot.

We recommend that if the building knows of “pops” in plaster due to moisture coming through bathroom/kitchen walls to the common hallway walls, they do all of the repair work to solve the problems prior to project commencement. Leaking roof areas and top floors should be inspected and repaired, if necessary. A survey of the building should be done by building staff.

Millwork, including wooden crown moldings or chair rails, will expand and contract over time due to moisture, humidity, and the porosity of the wood itself. This is normal. Wood, though dried and cured over time is still vulnerable to climatic changes. Cracking is an accepted fact of life.Carpet nap can cause directional shading in some carpets. This is normal. The lighting may have an effect on the shading. All of this falls within Industry Standards unless there is a manufacturing defect. Natural fibers such as wool/nylon blend carpets will shed for several months after installation. With regular vacuuming with a beater-brush-style vacuum cleaner. This will subside over time as well.

On occasion, we observe that door saddles appear higher after installation of new carpet. These heights can vary from door to door, and should be evaluated during initial walk-through by the designer and contractors. What we see is usually the raw concrete that is the base for the saddle. When there is a visible difference, we recommend that his raw edge be painted by the painting contractor prior to the carpet installation. Another solution is to have the carpet installer lay an additional layer of tackless strip to give height to that section of the floor.


signs and exit/emergency lighting installation must be done in accordance with local building codes. Placement and size of lettering and/or numbers are determined by this code. The aesthetics of other decorative signs such as wayfinding directories are subject to discussion with the board or decorating committee.Metal finishes on light fixtures, door hardware, signs, elevator plates and other decorative elements come from different suppliers and may vary in color. Each manufacturer may use different alloys, which in turn determine the color. This variation is acceptable under Industry Standards. Colors of materials, paint, carpet, and various finishes can appear very different in different lighting. We are careful to select colors in the correct lighting. Natural materials such as stone will vary in color and shading from stone to stone, and there may be variation within the stone. This is to be expected and is part of the beauty of the stone. Samples are submitted for approval prior to ordering the material, but they are merely representative. Clients are to expect variation within Industry Standards.Marble and/or tile floors may not be level. Floors may need to be leveled prior to installation—at a cost. Additionally, natural stone may have “lippage” which may make them appear uneven or improperly installed. The stones or tile are cut or manufactured within an Industry Standard tolerance and may never be perfectly level. Fumes from fresh paint or newly installed carpet are to be expected in the course of a renovation or redecorating project. This is normal. Every effort is made to eliminate these smells during installation by keeping stairwell doors open, using fans or opening windows, if applicable. All products will have some smell, which falls within Industry Standards and government regulations.

Proper and regular

maintenance is a vital component to preserve and protect the products, materials, and finishes that we as professional designers specify to maximize the appearance, durability and aesthetic life span of a project. We provide to the building the manufacturer’s cleaning instructions as an adjunct to good design. Marilyn Sygrove is president of Sygrove Associates Design Group, Inc., an interior design firm based in Manhattan.

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